Congratulations on your appointment to the B.C. cabinet. You have assumed a challenging role in what I consider to be the most important post in the cabinet. You now hold our future in your hands. The challenge is made even greater by the presence of the pandemic. I am writing to offer you suggestions for addressing four critical issues that require your immediate attention and that, if dealt with expeditiously, will give you instant credibility with those who serve in public education.
Perhaps some background will lend credibility to my suggestions. I have worked at every level in the field of public education for over 50 years. While Mr. Baldrey believes me to be simply a random blogger, I have had some noteworthy achievements. I received the Hilroy Fellowship awarded to ten of the top teachers in Canada and was the highest rated professor in my program at a major US university. I was also recognized by colleagues when I received the distinguished service award from both the BC School Superintendents Association and the Canadian Association of School Administrators. The latter association also awarded me their lifetime achievement award for my contribution to education across Canada. Most importantly I always believed that the primary role of every educator is to make every child feel significant every day and to give each of them access to his/her dreams.
I note that you also have some excellent experience and expertise in the field of labour relations. Therefore, you are well aware that organizations operate at their best when they have a culture that values, above all, building caring and compassionate relationships. The individuals have a common purpose and are passionate about their work for which they are happy to be held accountable. The children in this province are fortunate to have passionate teachers and school district employees who have developed just such caring learning environments. However, these are being unnecessarily stressed during this pandemic. With your having worked in the public sector labour relations field I believe you might see the value in acting upon the following four suggestions.
First, our school employees believe that they are not being given the protections that every other public sector worker has been granted. Your government has mandated that masks must be worn in all public places except schools. This has placed every school district employee at risk of suffering serious medical consequences up to and including death. It costs nothing to implement a mandatory mask policy for all students in grades four though twelve and this is already the practice in other provinces. One of the purposes of our schools is to build responsible citizens and wearing a mask is the responsible thing to do during this pandemic. This simple mandate would be providing a valuable lesson to our children while also protecting some of our most critical front-line workers. Moreover, by announcing this mandate you would build that much needed trust back into the culture and gain immediate credibility with the British Columbia Teachers Federation.
Second, I note the Premier has asked you to develop a robust remote learning program that can be accessed by every child in the province. I, too, believe this is an urgent need. Considering the district I served was delivering remote learning to Asia in the ‘90s, I am astounded we are so far behind in this field. There is exceptional expertise within the system to accomplish this task, but it has never had the full support of the Government to develop a program at the provincial level. Most local districts do not have the resources to do this on their own and it makes little sense to duplicate the work when there are common learning outcomes required in a provincial curriculum. At the best of times our students deserve alternate learning methods and this is even more essential in a pandemic when parents are asking for such a choice for their children. We need an easily accessible repository of electronic resources tied to our curriculum outcomes so that every school district in the province has the ability to offer this form of learning. I urge you to establish a working group with a time dated mandate to fulfil the premier’s request forthwith. Our students deserve this option as quickly as humanly possible for now and beyond the pandemic.
Third, you are taking responsibility for a system that is under severe stress. The province is experiencing record case numbers and exposures in schools are increasing every week. We had a much better situation in the spring, yet we closed schools for months. When they were reopened successfully, classroom density was reduced and social distancing was in place. Unfortunately, many of the lessons in June were ignored in the current school opening plan. Teachers are exhausted, fearful, frustrated and getting angry. This is not a healthy culture. We all want schools open, but the upcoming Christmas break offers an opportunity to extend the vacation with a minimal loss of In-class time. This would accomplish the following: a) reduce the spread of the virus just as it did in the spring; b) enable families to gather safely at Christmas because family members could be in their own bubble for the 14 day incubation period; c)give the school employees a much needed time to destress; and, d) give you and your department an opportunity to examine the current situation and reset the plan with improvements as necessary including developing the robust remote program. It is my belief that you, the Minister of Education, not the PHO, should be dictating how schools operate. Some of the last minute changes to the original school plan, as dictated by the PHO, led to questionable learning situations being forced on children and teachers. We can do better. I suggest you extend the Christmas break from December 10th to January 8th. Seven of the eleven lost instructional days can be recouped by ensuring students stay in school until June 25th. Hence, there would be only four lost days of instruction at the secondary schools. The payoff would be enormous!
Finally, every child in our system is special but some have cognitive and/or physical challenges that require extra assistance. Some of these children's needs have suffered during the pandemic. I suggest you establish a work group that is charged with determining how widespread this need is and recommending solutions for these special cases.
These are unusual and difficult times. They have been particularly difficult for our teachers and school employees. Our children are also experiencing stress both in their schools and at their homes. The suggestions above are offered in good faith and I believe would rebuild trust, slow the spread, and, most importantly, create the caring compassionate culture needed to foster a strong learning environment for our children.
I wish you well in your new challenge.
Dr. Doug Player